In hot spells such as the past three weeks, donkeys are kept out in blistering heat all day long. The animal charity's inspectors says this has got to stop.
There are estimated to be 980 donkeys on beach duty this year in Britain, a huge decrease on a century ago, when almost every resort had donkey rides. Protective measures have already been introduced for the donkeys which still trek along the crowded sands at more than 20 resorts. They have to undergo pre-season medicals, with limits on the weights of riders to 8st, lunch breaks, and new hoof markings to prevent below-par donkeys being pressed into service.
RSPCA chief inspector Brian Jeffries, whose patch includes Blackpool, where up to 160 animals are licensed to work the sands at any one time, yesterday urged an end to the rides.
"It is wrong to expect any animals to stand on the beach and be exploited. It is very much out of date and I would like to see an end to it. It is a relic from Victorian times, it is not what we want to see today.
"It must have been unimaginable for these animals to be working in the heat we have had this month and the hot sand. The sand is very dry and blowing in the wind and these animals are breathing particles of it all day long. When we looked at a group of 24 donkeys as part of a court case, we found a large number had upper respiratory problems as a consequence of being on the beach. That alone is enough for me to say it should stop."
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "It is something we have concerns about. We question whether it is really an appropriate use of such an animal. It is very difficult in the environment of a beach to keep an animal in circumstances where it is comfortable and which are healthy for it.
"Anyone who has a donkey must ensure that in the hot summer weather the animals have access to shade and water. Our inspectors keep an eye on what is happening and we talk to owners to make sure they are taking the necessary measures."
Blackpool Borough Council officials are keen to point out that the town has a Donkey Charter dating back to 1942 which lays down the hours of work for the animals and gives them a day off every Friday. At 1pm, all saddles must be loosened and all animals fed and watered.
"The donkeys are still popular and we have an enforcement officer who makes sure the charter is being adhered to," said spokesman Mike Chadwick.
Dr Elisabeth Svendsen, who founded the Donkey Sanctuary, said she would be sorry to see the beach rides go altogether. "It has been terribly hot this year, but there have been very big improvements. We are now using hoof marking for approved donkeys which means we can make sure that sub- standard donkeys are not being used."
An earlier Blackpool experiment with camels - which might have been better suited to the beach than donkeys this year - bit the dust because they didn't like the then wet summers.